How Much Break Should I Take?
When I take on a new triathlete it’s always one of my goals to help them make triathlon part of their lifestyle. Not an extra “thing” on their plate but something that just fits in with everything else. Something that eventually you end up not just having to do but needing. So, to that end, it makes sense to me that triathlon training is an 11 month a year thing. Not a 9 or 6 month seasonal activity like some sports are. You should fundamentally love jumping in a pool or on a bike to be successful at this, because to be good at it you have to stick with it.
But, I understand, particularly if you do a focused season of training and racing, your head and body in equal measures needs a break. I’m very strict about a 3-4 week off period after an Ironman so for those doing Ironman it usually works out that that’s the timing of their break for the year (also why I’m not keen on amateur athletes doing more than one a year). For athletes after a long short course season I think 2-4 weeks completely off triathlon stuff is good mentally and physically. Take a break from your coach (!) and let your body repair. Now, I’m not against activity during this time. Go play tennis 3 days a week for a month. Go to the gym and play on the funny machines you’ve never tried before. This can be harder for some than others, because let’s face it you have few friends outside of triathlon, and some of them will be in a different phase. So it’ll always be tempting to take your bike out on the weekend. But try resisting and you might just find yourself coming back hungrier and more refreshed after some forced deprivation of tri specific activities.
Once you’ve taken your complete break “winter” or “off-season” training kicks in and which involves a period of mental and physical refreshing while at the same time building fitness toward your summer goals. I’ve become looser with the exact phases and composition of annual periodization over the years but there’s a couple of basic ways the training I give differs from “in-season” training. 1) Slowly build volume, as you’re coming back from next to nothing, 2) More of an emphasis on peripheral things like resistance training, max speed and technique, 3) Work on your weak sport, 4) Stay away from mentally and physically exhausting threshold type workouts. [The off-season track workouts we do at our local tri club are a perfect example of the type of thing I apply to all three sports. There are none of the pure 400m or 1 mile repeats they we sometimes do in race season. We do drills, some strength stuff but still get plenty of running in including some intensity but it’s short in duration and with plenty of rest.] 5) Change the scenery. If you’re predominantly a roadrunner get on the trails. Don’t take your TT bike on the course of your “A” race, there’s plenty of time for that later. Explore some new places and that will only help your motivation and longevity in the sport.